On Friday, the American Federation of Teachers (ATF) Massachusetts Executive Board, made up of elected representatives of the 23,000 AFT members statewide, voted to call for a remote start to school this fall, citing the rising levels of COVID-19 transmission in Massachusetts, lengthy delays in obtaining test results, and the lack of hot water, adequate ventilation, and space for social distancing in school buildings.
“We miss our students terribly, and we all wish we could be back in the classroom with them. But it’s become clear in the last few weeks that an in-person return to schools would unacceptably put the health and safety of our students, their families, and educators at risk. Parents, grandparents, and educators – maybe even students – would die,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “Community transmission of COVID-19 is on the rise again in Massachusetts, and lengthy delays in testing mean we won’t know whether a sick student has the common cold or the deadly virus. In the schools AFT Massachusetts represents, especially in Boston and our Gateway Cities, years of chronic underfunding have left us with unsafe school facilities: windows that don’t open, bathrooms that lack hot water and soap, ventilation systems that need upgrading, and nurses that treat sick students in converted closets with no room for social distancing. We’ve outlined a series of criteria that districts and the state must meet before it is safe for students and educators to return to the classroom, and it’s clear that a period of remote learning will be necessary before those criteria are met. Now, we must focus on working with our local school teams to redesign remote learning so that it works for all students.”
AFT Massachusetts is the statewide affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, and represents educators in many of the state’s major cities, including Boston, Lawrence, Lowell, Everett and Lynn. In its statement, the union cited the effective reproduction rate of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, which is currently above 1.0, meaning that the virus is spreading, not being contained. According to the COVID Act Now model developed by experts from Georgetown University and Stanford University, ‘the total number of active cases in Massachusetts is growing at an unsustainable rate.’ On Sunday, the state’s positive test rate jumped to 2.65 percent, its highest level since mid-June.
AFT Massachusetts outlined several public health and safety criteria that the union believes are necessary in order for in-person learning to resume:
• Community transmission of COVID-19 is under control in the region.
• There is a public health infrastructure to support effective disease testing, surveillance, tracing and isolation in schools.
• All staff who are at high risk have access to remote work assignments.
• The district and school have funded safeguards and implemented protocols, including the below essential components:
*6-foot physical distancing
*Face coverings provided by schools to all students and staff, from Kindergarten up
*Adequate personal protective equipment provided to staff
*Access to hand-washing facilities with consistent 100oF degree water and soap
*Resources and staffing to clean and sanitize facilities
*Necessary updates to ventilation and building systems to ensure safe levels of air flow
*Adequate space for nurses to isolate potentially infected students
*Paid sick time to ensure that no educator or staff member brings COVID-19 into school
• AFT members and leaders, families and community partners are included in the reopening planning process.